In a world ruled by iGadgets and social media it can sometimes be difficult to remember that real books exist. Our introduction to words tends to be by touchscreen rather than paper these days. Sad but true. Tablet or not, the modern world will never be able to take away Britain's lush literary heritage, particularly when it comes to children's books. Here are a few classics, to tug gently at those strings of nostalgia.
Black Beauty (1877) -- Anna Sewell
Though the story was given an epic 90s revival through the magical voice of Alan Cumming and glorious presence of Sean Bean on the silver screen, Black Beauty was actually written back in 1877 by Great Yarmouth-born author Anna Sewell. Its full name, “Black Beauty: The Autobiographical Story of a Horse” was said to be written “to induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding of the treatment of horses.” Sewell wrote it over the course of several years, but like many grand success stories, it didn’t become a hit until after her death.
The Sheep-Pig (1983) -- Dick King-Smith
Although there is of course a bigger farm-based story in existence (shoutout to Orwell fans) one of the most popular with children, is that of “The Sheep Pig,” otherwise known as “Babe” following its 1995 film adaptation. The story about a valiant little pig that eventually goes on to lead sheep in a field is a sweetly portrayed example that animals have personalities too, inspired by Ronald Gordon King-Smith's farming background in Gloucestershire. The book took Smith to win various writing awards and later on in life, he was awarded an OBE for his services to children’s fiction.
Oliver Twist (1838) -- Charles Dickens
The infamous “Please sir, I want some more,” gruel scene stands out in across literary, film and musical culture, though of course, the latter would have never existed if Charles Dickens hadn’t written the book back in the early 1830s. Almost a century later, the story about street children, crime and extreme poverty in London during the Industrial Revolution was made into a musical in 1960 through the music of Lionel Bart, which by 1968 made it to the studios of Hollywood. Today, Oliver! is one of the West End’s most successful musicals of all time and has been performed all over the world. (See references).
The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902) -- Beatrix Potter
Beatrix Potter remains one of Britain's most-treasured children's authors. She's best known for her first book "The Tale of Peter Rabbit," which interestingly enough, stemmed from an illustrated letter she wrote to one of her friends who was ill. (reference 8) Potter revolutionised children's literature at the time when she wrote the book, as it had been rejected by many publishing houses, but went on to become one of the best-selling children's books of all time. There is a film too, starring Renee Zellweger (2006) which tells the story of the author's life.
The Railway Children (1906) -- Edith Nesbitt
Edith Nesbitt -- author of masterpieces such as, The Phoenix and The Carpet -- also wrote a story about a family living in rural England during Victorian times. A tribute to children that grow up close to British inter-city railway lines, The Railway Children has left a huge imprint on children's literature in the UK, since being adapted into various stage and television adaptations.
The Chronicles of Narnia (1950-1956) -- C. S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Narnia is series of fantasy books, written by C. S. Lewis shortly after the Second World War. The series has been astoundingly popular over the years, and to this day battles it out with the likes of Harry Potter for the best-read books in libraries and bookshops across Britain. The first book Lewis wrote, and possibly the best-known in the series, "The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe" tells the story of four evacuee children’s transformation into another world via an old wooden wardrobe.
The Borrowers (1952) – Mary Norton
Let’s face it, anything miniature is kind of cool. Ever been to one of those miniature villages? Mary Norton’s story is based upon a set of mini-people who live in a house of “real” human beings and run around borrowing things, but secretly. Imagine a world with 6-inch tall (15 cm) people living in it and no-one knowing about it. Genius.
The Famous Five (1942-1963) -- Enid Blyton
Enid Blyton is one of those authors that wrote so many books, she needed two names. No, seriously. The author otherwise known as Mary Pollock, wrote the Famous Five series (21 books) -- the adventure stories of five eventually, very famous children, but also created grand figures of British culture such as Noddy as well as writing The Secret Seven and Malory Towers series. In total she wrote over 600 books and became so famous there's even a day named after her.
The Jungle Book (1894) -- Rudyard Kipling
Probably better known because of Baloo the bear, "The Jungle Book," funnily enough, was actually a book before it was a Disney film. Its author Rudyard Kipling created the stories based on his upbringing in India, before moving to Southsea in Portsmouth. Kipling wrote a mass amount of books for children, including short stories. Remember Baa Baa Black Sheep? He wrote that too.
Charlie & The Chocolate Factory (1964) -- Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl is another British writer who made a memorable mark on the minds of children around the world. Dahl always had a way of highlighting the magic of sweets in a child's world. From golden tickets hidden in chocolate bars to lickable wallpaper and chocolate waterfalls; Charlie & The Chocolate Factory is just one of Dahl's masterpieces. The book and its sequel Charlie and the Glass Elevator were equally popular, as well as the film starring Gene Wilder in 1971 and the Tim Burton version in 2005 with Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka.
Winnie The Pooh (1924) -- A. A. Milne
Bears play a large part in children's stories and Winnie The Pooh is one of the most famous among the top British bears. First appearing in "When We Were Very Young," a verse written by Milne in 1924, Winnie went on to be made into a fully-fledged cartoon character, earning the star role in many of his own films.
Treasure Island (1883) -- Robert Louis Stevenson
The British have been referred to as "pirates" many a time throughout history, so it'd only be natural that the most famous pirate story be written by a Brit. Scotsman Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Treasure Island as a series of stories to begin with, as did many children's writers at the time, which were eventually compiled into one book, which published in 1883. Among Stevenson's other major work includes The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
Mary Poppins (1934-1988) -- P.L. Travers
Chim Chimminy Chim Chim Chiroo? Everybody tends to know Mary Poppins better because of Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke -- the stars of the hit 1964 Disney film. The story of the flying nanny who danced on chimney tops and cleaned up a nursery with the click of a hand was also developed into a stage show after its film success. Australian-born Pamela Lyndon Travers reluctantly granted rights to her stories about a magical nanny looking after children on Cherry Tree Lane, however, in the end it catapulted her creation into becoming one of Britain's most famous literary characters.
Paddington Bear (1958) -- Michael Bond
Berkshire-born Bond created Paddington Bear in the 1950s whilst working as a cameraman for the BBC. "A Bear Called Paddington" was the first of about 150 titles sending off the little bear on different quests. Between that infamous navy blue anorak and folded hat, marmalade and tales of Peruvian trails; the character named after one of London's busiest train stations remains among the most-loved in children's fiction to this day. He might even be more famous that Winnie. Maybe.
Peter Pan (1915) -- J. M. Barrie
The character of Peter Pan first appeared in a story called "The Little White Bird" written by Barrie in 1902, a time where children's stories would appear in small magazines. The character was then developed and the story of "Peter Pan and Wendy" was taken to the stage, before being published in book form in 1915. Based on the life of a young boy who doesn't want to grow up, the innocence of adventure, the fairy dust-filled story about flying children and magic marbles never gets old. It is safe to say that Kirriemuir-born Barrie firmly paved the way for the many fantasy fiction writers that preceded him.
- Anna Sewell -- Encyclopedia Britannica
- Black Beauty
- Oliver the musical
- Sheep-Pig author Dick King-Smith dies age 88
- Black Beauty; Anna Sewell; 1877
- Oliver Twist; Charles Dickens; 1838
- The Sheep-Pig; Dick King-Smith; 1983
- Peter Rabbit
- How did E Nesbit come to write such an idealised celebration of Victorian family life?
- Enid Blyton